VOL. 113 | NO. 74 | Wednesday, April 14, 1999
By LAURIE JOHNSON
Landmarks to review National Civil Rights Museum expansion
By LAURIE JOHNSON
The Daily News
Starting next summer, visitors to the National Civil Rights Museum may be able to experience an even more comprehensive picture of the movements past, present and future.
The Memphis Landmarks Commission will review final plans for the National Civil Rights Museums $9 million expansion project today at its first April meeting, scheduled for 4:30 p.m. at City Hall.
The project will involve transforming two buildings along South Main Street into an extension of the museum and creating an open plaza and park-style promenade on land adjacent to the property, according to museum officials.
The properties are in the South Main Historic District and are subject to the Landmarks Commissions design guidelines for the district.
The expansion project will double the 15,000-square-foot museums space, giving it more room to pursue its mission of educating the public about the history of the U.S. civil rights movement and its impact on other human rights movements worldwide, said Beverly Robertson, the museums executive director.
"One of the things people have indicated to us when they come to the existing museum is that, while its a very moving and emotional experience, they still have some questions," Robertson said.
While the museums exhibits, collections and programs focus on civil rights efforts from the early 1900s through Dr. Martin Luther Kings death in 1968, visitors have expressed an interest in learning more, such as the details of the assassination and the progress of the movement since then, she said.
"People often ask questions about the logistics of Dr. Kings shooting, as well as What happened to "The Dream? Did it die when Dr. King died?" she said. "The purpose of our expansion is to answer those questions."
The properties involved in the expansion are located between South Main and the museum, which is housed in the Lorraine Motel, the site of Kings assassination.
They include 418 S. Main, the former rooming house from which the sniper allegedly fired the shots that killed King; 422-24 S. Main, known as the Young & Morrow Building; and a strip of land adjacent to the two.
Frontage along South Main will improve the visibility and accessibility of the museum, Robertson said.
The boarding houses owners donated the building to the museum, and the museum purchased the building next to it, Robertson said. The city and county donated the land that will be transformed into a park-style promenade.
"This will be public space that can be shared by the community," Robertson said. "This will also allow us to open up the courtyard of the museum so we can expand our outdoor activities and programming."
The museum, which opened in 1991, has about 120,000 visitors a year.
Landmarks Commission board members reviewed preliminary plans for the project, designed by Looney Ricks Kiss, in December, said Landmarks Commission historic preservation planner Darrell Cozen.
If the project is approved, groundbreaking on the project will take place this summer, with completion scheduled about a year later.
"This will be an asset not only to the neighborhood but the whole city," Cozen said.
At todays meeting, the Landmarks Commission also will review a proposal to enlarge the South Main Historic District to include former apartment buildings at 384 Mulberry St. and 129 Talbot Ave.
The owners of the two buildings, which border the district, want to rehabilitate them and would like the properties to be included on the National Register of Historic Places in order to qualify for federal assistance.
"One of the advantages to being on the National Register, is that, if you have a building that is deteriorating, you can prepare a rehabilitation plan and apply to ask the federal government to pay 20 percent of the cost," Cozen said.
The National Register nomination for the two buildings, built in 1905 as tenements for African-American workers when segregation was still the rule in Memphis, has received state approval, Cozen said.